How to Control Pre-Race Jitters

This past weekend, Luke participated in the Kids Ride of the Twilight Criterium. The Twilight Criterium is a fast-paced cycling race in the heart of downtown Boise. Admittedly, I was a very proud mom when I saw my son pedaling his heart out at the end of the race, finishing close to the front of the pack. We may have a little cyclist on our hands! Though he was goofing around quite a bit before the race got underway:

He was quite tired when it was all over:

When I told him how proud I was, he embarrassingly said, “Mom, I got so nervous at the start.” He was truly mad at himself for experiencing pre-race jitters! I tried to console Luke by telling him that it is perfectly normal to be nervous before an event. In fact, when watching an Ironman Championship on TV last weekend, the pro athletes spoke of their anxiety before getting under way. According to Competitive Advantage, NBA Boston Celtics great Bill Russell used to throw up before all his games. Bono gets nervous before U2 concerts, and who doesn’t get jitters before speaking in public? Another thing I shared with Luke: Even after running 16 marathons, I still get incredibly nervous at the start of each race. I never know how I’m going to feel along the way or how my body will react at mile 20. That’s something to be scared about! What can you do to control anxiety? Here are a few ideas to help you out:

Visualize. Famous athletes like Michael Jordan, Mohammed Ali and Lindsay Vonn are known to use this technique as a means of calming the nerves and achieving goals. By closing your eyes and imagining the movements you will make to complete a race, game or event successfully, you are more apt to do so. By simulating the event in your head, making it as real as possible, you can help create a positive outcome.

Develop rituals. According to Christine Luff, who writes for, many elite athletes perform pre-race rituals to help control anxiety. Did you recently see Michael Phelps listening to music before he raced in the Olympic trials? The commentators said he has been doing the same pre-race block stretches for years. Listening to music, praying, or warming-up are familiar rituals that can be relaxing.

Expect the unexpected. Coach Jenny, who writes for Runners’ World, suggests that expectations only encourage anxiety, while letting go of them brings about a certain calmness. As I write about in my upcoming marathon book, there are factors that are beyond your control in every race, match or game, so try to accept what is and enjoy the experience.

Breathe. Don’t choke. Just breathe. That’s right. Take deep breaths to calm your nerves. The practice of deep, rhythmic breaths is beneficial for meditating, staying in the present moment, and reducing anxiety.

Believe. Believe in yourself, that is. According to Dr. Jim Taylor who writes for the Huffington Post, one thing that separates the best athletes in the world from everyone else is their deep and resilient belief in their abilities to play their best. Though building confidence can be challenging, doing so can help you deliver your best performance.

Many thanks to Kristin Armstrong for making this day very special for many kids in Boise. Good luck in the Olympics. We’ll be cheering for you!

Melinda Hinson